You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8)
Even for those who celebrate the fact that two millennia ago God became a man and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus of Nazereth and that this Jesus will one day return to the world in victory over sin and death, Christmas time is not an entirely joyful season. For some, the holidays are a very difficult time, characterized (for various reasons) by bouts with discouragement and even depression. And for many, these struggles go largely unnoticed by everyone around them.
Over the course of a number of years I have come to believe that a person is bound to experience a thousand sorrows in this life that no one but God will ever see or acknowledge, and that one critical step to finding joy and contentment in this life is learning to accept that fact.
You don’t have to live very long in this world to begin accumulating painful experiences and to see that the weight of those experiences have an effect upon the way you walk through life. Living among sinners we are bound to be sinned against, even in grievous ways. Some of us know full well the pain of abuse or neglect, others the pain of betrayal and outright malice. It is very hard to be treated unjustly.
And, within every sorrow laden heart resides a longing for vindication. We want our pain to be acknowledged. We silently hope for a chance to share with a sympathetic friend about the weight we are carrying. We wait expectantly for our friends to rise up in our defense when we are falsely accused. We long for those who sin against us to see how wrong they are in doing so and dream of the day when the mouths of our critics are closed for good. Yet, often times, these desires go long unfulfilled. And so, in the mean time, we are tempted to wonder if even God has taken note of our sorrows.
Well, be assured Christian, whether anyone ever notices your pain, or rises up in your defense, or grants you the blessing of a sympathetic listening ear – your God has taken full account of it all and will come to your defense in due time, whether in this life or in the life to come. Mixed in the same bottle and written down in the same book are David’s tears and yours. The injustices you have suffered have not escaped the notice of your compassionate God, the judge of all the earth. And he will make things right in the end.
I believe that much of the fight for joy in our trials is in learning to land upon these truths consistently. To learn, instead of fighting for my rights and demanding fair treatment from everyone around me, to preach to my own heart the truths of God’s intimate knowledge of my experiences, his unrelenting commitment to my good, and his unbreakable dedication to doing what is right.
These, I believe, are the truths that David is resting upon when he recounts to God in Psalm 56:8, “You have kept count of my tossings (or better, “wanderings”), put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” One commentator offers a helpful explanation of the significance of these words when he says, “The record and collection of tears serve as an assurance to the psalmist that the Lord will vindicate him. He rests his case with the assurance that the Lord will hear and respond in justice” (VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 400).
This reminds me very much of the pattern of Christ that Peter points to in 1 Peter 2, which we ourselves are called to conform to in obedience to him; a pattern of “entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23) through his suffering. Jesus entrusted himself (literally “handed himself over”) to his heavenly Father, whom he trusted to execute final justice on his behalf. He left it to God. He willingly endured the suffering the Father had sent him into the world to endure, and trusted the Father to turn it around for good – all the way to his last breath. And that pattern of humble, voluntary, God-ward endurance through unjust suffering is one that we are called to follow, since we know that the Father did in fact vindicate his Son by raising him from the dead. This is the very ground of our hope that God will come through for us as well, in the end.
The simple fact of the matter is that many of the injustices we face may very well go unnoticed by everyone but God, and completely un-acknowledged until the day of Christ’s return. But this is no cause for despair; it is cause for great rejoicing. The record of our tears is being kept with perfect precision, until the day when the One keeping that record wipes away every one of those tears for good (Revelation 21:4).
Be encouraged, Christian. That day is fast-approaching. You will not carry your sorrows forever, for God has noticed them, and will deal with them in due time.